Scouting Report: Arkansas-Pine Bluff

Air Force's men's basketball team is about to take a pre-Christmas, pre-winter break. A two-week gap on the schedule looms, which means that Saturday's game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff is the first of two examinations meant to prepare the Falcons for the Florida Gators.


You remember when you took final exams in the first full week of December. The layoff following those finals promised a sweet taste of fresh air, a chance to breathe before the heavy lifting that was to come. Unlike most college students, though, Air Force won't return in early January after Christmas and New Year's. The Falcons will play another game on Dec. 22, and they have many off-court, non-basketball duties to discharge in the coming days. Nevertheless, there's still a conscious awareness in Colorado Springs of a barren space on the schedule. With Florida – kick-everyone-else-in-the-teeth-by-a-large-margin Florida – sitting on the Dec. 29 square in that worn 2012 calendar you'll throw into the recycling bin on Jan. 1, the Falcons need to begin their preparations now.

ARKANSAS-PINE BLUFF AT-A-GLANCE

The Golden Lions of the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) made their only NCAA tournament appearance in 2010, winning what was at the time the only play-in game on the bracket in Dayton, Ohio (now there are four such games, of course). Ever since that mountaintop moment, head coach George Ivory has struggled to maintain momentum. The Golden Lions went 7-24 in 2011 and 11-22 last season. They're 1-7 after eight games this year and are trying to gain a measure of traction.

The first thing to realize – and then absorb with appropriate sobriety – about Arkansas-Pine Bluff is that the Lions' 1-7 mark, as conspicuous as it is, reflects a challenging schedule more than inherent and substantial deficiencies. UAPB and Ivory are merely operating in line with the demands of modern collegiate athletics. Ivory is playing power-conference schools and taking his team on the road because that's the only way the basketball program will make enough money to keep operating at the Division I-A level. This is life for not just Arkansas-Pine Bluff, but most SWAC schools and other institutions in the bottom tier of America's D-I conferences. These are the schools that rate no better than 240 or 250 in various measurements of the nation's 345 D-I hoops teams.

Look at some of Pine Bluff's foes through the first four weeks of the season: San Diego State, Washington State, Arizona State, Oregon, Michigan State. These were all road games, not even neutral-site contests. After all, the Pine Bluffs of the world don't get invited to sexy so-called "preseason" tournaments in Maui, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, New York, and Orlando. The Golden Lions won't be found in various cities where two- or four-game "classics" are staged over two days. If Air Force is expecting this to be a cupcake game, it could be in for a bit of a surprise.

Starting Lineup

Forward – Davon Haynes –
Junior, 6-8, 215 2012-13: 12.3 points per game, 6.3 rebounds per game, 1.3 steals per game

Haynes is a capable and generally well-rounded player. He knows what to do with the ball and is not awkward with his footwork. Why mention this? Haynes is Pine Bluff's tallest and most chiseled active frontline player. Center Terrell Kennedy goes 6-6 and 250 pounds, but he did not play against Michigan State this past Wednesday. Kennedy is the player who should be filling space in the middle for the Golden Lions, but in his absence, Haynes – despite a stringy physical makeup and a lack of heft in the low post – will be asked to play interior defense and rebound by Ivory and the rest of the UAPB coaching staff. This matchup is one that Air Force can exploit. The Falcons have some brawn, size and beef on the low blocks. They can pound the ball into the paint. In one-on-one matchups, Air Force's pivot players can back down Haynes in the low post and get a lot of quality looks near the rim.

Forward – Mitchell Anderson – Senior, 6-7, 190; 2012-13: 8.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.3 steals per game, 1.5 blocks per game

Anderson is another forward in the UAPB lineup who isn't particularly bulky, making him vulnerable to any opponent that can post him up with forwards who are skilled at playing with their backs to the basket. However, what Anderson lacks in thickness is compensated for with an acute sense of where to be on the court, especially at the defensive end of the floor. Anderson is always poking his hands into a passing lane and using his feet to get in position to block shots. Air Force needs to display intelligence in its halfcourt offense, maneuvering so that Anderson's influence on defense will be minimized.

Guard – Lazabian Jackson – Senior, 6-3, 190; 2012-13: 11.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 2.1 assists per game, 1.8 steals per game

Jackson doesn't shoot the three very well and he doesn't hit foul shots, but when operating within 15 feet of the rim in live-ball (not dead-ball) contexts, he's fairly effective. (Just to be sure, that's not a knock or a snark-flavored statement; it's a genuine expression of admiration for what Jackson does on the floor.) Jackson isn't a big guard – that's reserved for players 6-5 and taller – but he rebounds extremely well and has very quick hands. He shares the ball and is prudent in how he approaches the sport. Air Force can and should dare Jackson to shoot jumpers beyond 15 or 16 feet. It should be ready to deny him on dribble penetration while bumping him on cuts.

Guard – Tevin Hammond – Sophomore, 6-0, 185; 2012-13: 5.6 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.4 apg, 2.5 steals per game

You can begin to see that Arkansas-Pine Bluff is a very active and pesky defensive team, the kind of team that will punish you if you're casual with the ball or lose concentration for brief but decisive periods of time. Hammond is the leader in steals on the Golden Lions' roster, but he's surrounded by pickpockets. Every UAPB starter (with Kennedy not in the starting five, mind you…) averages at least one steal per game, and four of them average at least 1.3 per contest. Hammond is the prototypical Pine Bluff player: He's not gifted with a scorer's shotmaking genius, but he does all the other blue-collar things that enable a basketball team to be competitive. Air Force needs to be very attentive when it has the ball; otherwise, a lot of Falcon possessions could quickly turn into cheap transition baskets for the Golden Lions.

Guard – Jaylon Floyd – Sophomore, 6-4, 190; 2012-13: 3 ppg, 3.4 rpg

Floyd is an off-ball operator at both ends of the floor. He doesn't set up his teammates with passes, an indication that this non-scorer is on the court to provide Ivory with gruntwork more than anything else. If (when?) Kennedy manages to get back in Pine Bluff's starting lineup, you will likely see Floyd revert to a bench role and cede a substantial amount of minutes. UABP needs to have Kennedy, its big man (in more ways than one) on the floor so that it can be more competitive in the paint, particularly on defense. Floyd is a stopgap measure for Ivory, a player who is being thrown into a very difficult situation for the Golden Lions.

Bench

In the UAPB rotation, forward Daniel Broughton has more size than any other Golden Lion reserve. At 6-8 and 225, Broughton – who regularly gets 20 minutes per game – offers badly-needed support on the low blocks, but he is not an imposing rebounder. He needs to become more effective on the glass if UAPB wants to make noise in the remainder of its non-conference schedule. Guards Kyle Jones and Warren Boyd are the other main performers on the Pine Bluff bench, but neither man gives Ivory the scoring punch that the Lions so desperately need.

Keys to the Game

1) Value the ball.
It's a Bill Raftery expression – "value the ball." Air Force needs to take it to heart. Arkansas-Pine Bluff is a poor offensive team but a legitimately formidable defensive team. In many ways, the foremost task for the Falcons is to be precise and polished in their halfcourt sets, dribbling and passing the ball so cleanly that UAPB cannot get steals and transition buckets. As long as Pine Bluff doesn't get a lot of free points, Air Force will win, and you can feel very confident in reading that assertion.

2) Overpower the post. If Terrell Kennedy cannot play in this game, Arkansas-Pine Bluff will be thin – literally and figuratively – on the low blocks. The Falcons can tell Taylor Broekhuis to plant his body on that wide block on the edge of the lane and simply go to work. To reference a different college basketball commentator, Broekhuis is in position to spend this game eating "buffet-style on the glass." Yes, it could be a Clark Kellogg afternoon for Broekhuis against this undersized opponent… and a dog-day (late-autumn) afternoon for the boys from Pine Bluff.

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